An Interview with Okubo Yui (Director)
Imagining Anew from What’s Unchanged
Q: Looking at the past and present of Otsuchi town in this film made me realize that scenes and sounds of the everyday are current and immediate. It’s such an ordinary sensation but your film properly reminded me of its importance. Why did you decide to dedicate the work to your niece?
OY: After the earthquake, I’d been trying to think, first and foremost, what my town looked like in the past. That was before I came up with the idea of making a film for my niece. In the process of learning about Otsuchi’s history, I started interviewing the locals.
In those conversations, I heard so many people saying that they wanted to leave something behind for the children. I didn’t really identify with that feeling, until my niece was born. It was then their words began to resonate with me. I discovered I wanted something I could bequeath to her, too. Some day, when she stands on Otsuchi soil—on the raised ground that buries all traces of the old town—and wishes, like me today, to learn what the town looked like in the past, this film will hopefully help her imagination recreate the past.
Q: What is the reason you chose the title Close but Distant?
OY: Close but Distant says a lot about distance. When I see the town in front of me today, I am sometimes reminded of images of the town from the past. But these memories seem to be moving farther away, to a distant place. I’m talking about the distance I feel between here and what doesn’t exist anymore, the distance time creates before and after raising the ground level, and the distance between me and my niece who in the future will see this film. I was referring to all these different distances when I chose the title.
Q: I see a particular attentiveness to nature in this film. What was your focus as you were filming?
OY: I didn’t plan it to be of any particular film style. I just filmed Otsuchi in its present state as I felt it, and edited the footage spontaneously. I tried to avoid people because it would draw me into their character and take me away from an overview of the town.
I filmed nature a lot because the transformation of the town was due to a natural phenomenon (the tsunami), and nature inspired an incentive to imagine the town as it once. Gradually I found myself looking more and more towards nature. Observing Otsuchi in the post-disaster landscape, I realized that the town had actually now reverted to the world of its ancestors—I was hearing the sounds of the sea wind and gulls, I was seeing how nature was overtaking the debris. In spite of the fact that nothing remained of the town as it once was, I understood that never-changing nature was the way our imagination could resurrect Otsuchi as it used to be.
Q: There’s one chapter of photographs, mostly of people. Why did you use natural sounds to play as soundtrack?
OY: Musing on what the natural sounds of ancient Otsuchi could have sounded like, I came upon the idea that the town today has reverted to what it had looked like in the old days before it became a town. I juxtaposed the sounds that had inspired this idea in me, with photographs of real people in the old days, hoping that something will arise from this experimental combination. I hope the viewer will feel something from it.
(Compiled by Suzuki Moyu)
Interviewers: Suzuki Moyu, Uno Yukiko / Translator: Fujioka Asako
Photography: Ishizawa Kana / Video: Kano Megumi / 2015-10-12